Stigma Fighters: Helen W.

I’ve always thought of it as having a skin too few. The stupidest things upset me. I can be happy and content but one prick and I deflate with a sick feeling of futility and inadequacy acidic in my stomach.

As a child I never seemed to get it right. I would greet beloved relatives with squeals of enthusiasm. Of course I was deserving of the biggest present. On one dreadful occasion I actually grabbed the biggest present and ripped it open. The ensuing yells and ‘so disappointed’ murmurs haunt me still.

In my teens I ran a bit wild, smoking pot, drinking, and a boyfriend in the cool group of older kids. To me my parents were disappointed, angry or at their wits end when I came home drunk, drugged in the early hours. Everything they felt and expressed, echoed and magnified inside me to immense proportions. I would go to bed feeling like the worst person in the world, wanting to never wake up, to not suffer this pain any more.

My memory of my first suicide attempt is swallowing all the pills in the medicine cabinet with a stolen bottle of wine. I repented when I started feeling sick and told my mother who made me drink salt water until I vomited. Her memory is different. Today who is correct is irrelevant.

At University my disastrous first year was spent in a Hall of Residence. I cheated on my long-term boyfriend and did the only thing I really regret – broke his heart. That short-lived affair ended, with a note under my door. I tried to hang myself, but the light fitting broke with my weight. I would alternate between wild parties, and periods when I felt desperately dreadfully alone.

The pattern continued in the years I lived in a shared house. Parties, drink, sleeping around (even though I had a boyfriend).

Then came the rape. My abuser was manipulative and sucked me into a place where I was numb. I was tied to bath taps, tied to the bed head, held down by his weight. I believed this was all I really deserved. When I got flu he vanished. Later when he reappeared one of my housemates drove him off. I couldn’t, I was too broken.

Soon I overdosed again. I remember the feeling of deep shame and abject failure that came with the paramedic telling me how stupid I was, the endless vomiting as my body rejected the drugs, and the rage of my housemate as she screamed about how much I had damaged her. I was a failure even at death.

I was referred to a psychologist. I saw him twice and he thought I probably had mild episodic depression. That was it. No help no follow up.

Work was difficult. I was unable to control my moods, and was repeatedly told I was damaging others. Somehow I became a Chartered Accountant and fled to Australia.

Nothing changed in the new country, except I replaced partying for regular self-medication with alcohol. I became a functional alcoholic.

I lost two jobs, the first for visa reasons. The second was worse. My mood swings had so damaged the psyche of a junior he was afraid to work with me. That night my long-term partner took the vodka and the knives away as I lay screaming on the kitchen floor.

The first turning point came when the world became grey. One morning I walked into my GP’s office started crying and couldn’t stop. I spent about 3 months away from my job with that breakdown. For the first time I received anti-depressants.

The second turning point was when my physical health started to decline. I was given pain medication but no guidance on taking it properly. The anti-depressants were increased in dosage but to no avail. I started to loose my temper at work, and had uncontrollable back spasms. My employers deemed me a safety threat and went through a long process to terminate my employment.

Then my GP did something. Realising my situation was too much for her I was referred to a psychiatrist who also specialised in pain management. My anti-depressants were adjusted and changed until the right balance was found. I was given a regime for pain medication.

I went through therapy that showed me how my past affected my present. I could finally make peace with myself. The diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder was the final piece of the puzzle. Now I knew why I had such manic highs and agonising lows.

I made peace with my family by dragging the whole thing into the light. I talked about everything. My mother struggled with some of this, her memories disagreeing with mine. My father revealed he felt the same way I did all his life. There was, figuratively, blood on the carpet, but at last there was understanding and some peace between us.

I continue to live with periods of highs, followed by crushing lows. My long-term relationship ended but I was able to process the intense hurt, and we remain the best of friends. In my lows there are still times I don’t want to wake up, I take pills to make sure I get to sleep rather than drinking too much and trying to damage myself. I get paranoid that my current boyfriend will tire of me, even though he knows my story.

But I gained a gift in the process – empathy. No longer living in the set of rules and expectations work and society try to place around people I am open minded about people and their lives. This means if I can try to help someone, even just by offering love and support from afar, lending an ear, or posting silly messages or random hug pictures on their Facebook timeline I will. I am repaid tenfold by deep and abiding friendships and support. Finally I know why I am still living this life.

helen

I am Helen White. I studied Ancient and Medieval History at University before graduating as a Chartered Accountant. I have no idea why I chose that career path. I immigrated to Australia in September 2000, my main memory is being bemused by the blanket coverage of some kind of Olympic ceremony on the television – Sydney 2000. I continued a career in finance, to the detriment of my mental health.  In 2010 I was forced to leave the workforce. I am currently taking a break attempting to study for a Masters in Information Management. Frustratingly this in abeyance due to continued deterioration of my spine. My mind is active and stubborn. I live with my ex and 2 demanding Siamese all of whom I adore.

  • Sarah Batten-Plowright

    A brilliant and brutally honest story, that I know will help other people suffering from mental health issues. Why oh why though don’t docs realise sooner and give help that is needed. It needs a higher profile because it can be so debilitating.

  • Charity Parkerson

    So pound of you, Helen, for speaking up. <3

  • Dionne Lister

    You are awesome! And I’m sad that you’ve had to go through so much. Thank you for speaking out because it will surely help others xx.

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  • Lady Anxiety

    Beautifully candid! Such an inspiring story <3

  • simonfromthepast

    Sorry to hear you’ve been through so much. Don’t waste time on regrets;hearts were always going to be broken and things work out. Fingers crossed they work out for you. Love.